Clinton County Historical Society

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The history of the Clinton County Historical Society can easily be divided into two periods. The first begins with its founding and incorporation in the early months of 1921 and runs through the acquisition of the Seymour Ball (later the Samuel M. Heisey) Victorian home in September 1962; the second period comprises those years since.

During the first period, between 1921 and 1962. the society saw both good and lean years. In the good years, an ambitious and active membership committee generated between 200 and 300 members. At other times, paid memberships dwindled to 45 or 50. Regardless of the numbers, however, these were years of vigorous research prompted by an awaking interest in the ghost towns and abandoned in­dustries of the county’s earlier years. Research embraced topics about the “good old days” of lumbering, rafting and canal travel; of clay mining and prospecting for coal; of the passing of one-room rural schools. the establish­ment of small academies throughout the county and the early days of the Normal School. With the passing of Civil War veterans and a diminishing number of veterans from the Spanish­American conflict, the desire to pre­serve the history of these events flour­ished. For the interested, historically­-minded members in the 20s, 30s and 40s, research and investigation of such matters was inviting.

Through all these years of intense investigation, one goal of the society remained constant – the repeated reali­zation that the society should have its own “home.” As the organization’s activities increased, the need became even more apparent. A room in U1e Ross Library, the junior high school, the city hall or the chapel of an avail­able church did not provide the histor­ical society with a permanent location in which it could hold regular meetings and house its museum collection. Members wanted a home rich in the history of the area, reflecting the archi­tectural beauty of the splendid man­sions erected by the “lumber barons” who in the Victorian period domin­ated Lock Haven and, to some extent, the county. They looked forward to a home that could be restored to house authentic artifacts and furnishings of the period.

This dream was finally realized in 1962 when the former Ball house on East Water Street in Lock Haven, owned by Mr. and Mrs. Samuel M. Heisey, both long active in the society, was deeded to the group with the ex­plicit provision that it should always remain a museum bearing the name Heisey. The lovely old home stands on the site of what was originally a tavern located a half square below the en­trance to the crosscut of the Pennsyl­vania West Branch Canal. In 1834, when Jerry Church, the founder of Lock Haven, bought the Henderson farm for the purpose of laying out a town, the tavern was one of two build­ings already standing on the entire tract. Between 1834 and the 1860s, ad­ditions were made to the original build­ing which was later purchased by the Hon. Seymour D. Ball and converted into a beautiful Victorian edifice.

The historical society labored to re­store the grounds and the building for eleven years. Then, in 1972, Hurricane Agnes struck and the flood which it caused ruined most of what had been done. In addition to damage to the building itself, the flood waters de­stroyed many priceless heirlooms, among them Jerry Church’s fiddle and the tea pot which had been buried at Fort Reed by Jennie Reed during the “Runaway” and later recovered when settlers returned in the 1780s.

After the initial shock and heart­break, members began anew. Today, nine years later, the Heisey Museum is well and widely known. One room, the East Parlor, is as authentically mid­-Victorian as gifts and purchases can make it. Seven other rooms now house Victorian artifacts, furnishings and works of art. Outside, the grounds are being landscaped as they would have appeared in the mid-1800s, and recent­ly a gazebo, common in those days, was erected. The painting and wood­work, within and without, as well as the wall paper and floor coverings are all faithfully reproduced in period design and colors. Paintings by local artists of the period are hung as are en­larged maps and drawings. The rooms downstairs include a dining room, a kitchen and pantry. The second floor, reached by a beautiful winding stair­case, consists of a child’s bedroom, a bedroom for adults, a bathroom and two rooms housing artifacts in display cases. Every industry and business of the period is also represented in some manner.

Interest in the museum and the society has resulted in several other restoration projects. The most recent venture, which is still in progress, is the cleaning and restoration of the iron furnace at Farrandsville in Cole­brook Township. This furnace, built in 1837, was the first furnace in America to use the hot blast successfully.

A future restoration project will in­volve the abandoned guardlock for the old Pennsylvania Canal (West Branch Division) situated just below Lock Haven along the West Branch of the Susquehanna River. In order to ensure the lock’s preservation, it was pur­chased and given to the society to be restored. As a reminder of the society’s dedication to preserve the history of the canal era, two original canal boal anchors donated to the museum have already been placed permanently on the river bank where boats from the Pennsylvania Canal passed into the crosscut canal going west.

In the 1970s, much interest was en­gendered in inventorying historic sites for the National Register. The Heritage Committee of the society made a de­tailed study and located 105 houses in Lock Haven and about 30 more in the remainder of the county which quali­fied. This project provided the basis for a number of society members to complete a very ambitious undertaking. The result, An Architectural Survey of Historic Lock Haven, a beautifully il­lustrated, 200-page book which shows most of the architectural styles of the town’s fine homes, took over two painstaking years to put together. Many of the Gothic Revival, Italianate and Second Empire homes which are presented in the publication were built by citizens prominent in lumbering and kindred industries. In all, some 173 houses were researched and docu­mented while compiling the book.

Other publications have also been a part of the Clinton County Historical Society’s efforts. The WPA county history published in 1939, for example, was directed by the society and, through the Clinton County commis­sioners, was made available to public schools a11d libraries. When the diary of Jerry Church went out of print, it was reprinted in facsimile by the soci­ety. The diary gives details of the pur­chase, laying out and selling of 200 acres of what was to become the eastern part of Lock Haven.

In further deference to Jerry Church, the society sponsored “Jerry Church Day” this past summer. Atten­tion was focused on Lock Haven’s founder in an attempt to interest more people in the history of Clinton Coun­ty and its county seat, Lock Haven. Merchants devoted window space to displays and exhibits of artifacts from the museum, while programs were pre­sented throughout the day at Triangle Park in the heart of the town. Before the celebration closed with a chicken barbeque on the grounds of the mu­seum, a number of new members were added to the society’s rolls and hundreds of people toured the museum. Interest ran so high and appreciation was so great that plans are already underway to institute “Jerry Church Day” as an annual event.